Rick Rubin Helped Metallica Rediscover Themselves on “Death Magnetic”



For decades Rick Rubin has been that super-bearded music producer genius that’s worked alongside some of the biggest bands of now and yesteryear: Black Sabbath, Johnny Cash, Beastie Boys, Slayer and countless others. Hell, he’s even the one responsible for getting RUN DMC and Aerosmith together to record a version of “Walk This Way,” long before rappers and rockers mutually accepted one another.

In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Rubin reflected on another one of his big accomplishments: producing Metallica’s 2008 return-to-form, multi-platinum selling album, Death Magnetic.

When speaking about that era, Rubin notes that he asked Metallica to look back on its past for inspiration and focus once again on a more organic approach to songwriting.

Here’s Rubin’s full recollection:

“The main goal of our work together was to get them to re-embrace being Metallica [and] feeling okay to be a heavy metal band. In some ways, they had already done that, but before that, they had tried to reinvent themselves in different ways.

“I tried to get them to re-engage with everything everybody fell in love with, with Metallica in the first place. I got them to listen to the music that they were listening to at the time that they made Master Of Puppets those influences. I asked them to live with those influences and spend more time playing together as a band.

“They’d fallen into a trap of using the studio more as an instrument and punching in parts to get the perfection they were looking for than they were getting through raw performance power. It was about getting them to not try ideas by editing them together with a machine, but to try playing them in different orders to see what they felt like. And they really ended up getting back to being a band.

“Anytime Lars [Ulrich] would want to sit at the computer and try and write, I would insist that he and the band would all play together. Some of it was just a habit for them. It’s easy to try a lot of ideas if you don’t have to play them. But if you’re playing one part and it’s going to go into the next part, you might play the first part or the second part slightly differently, and the way that they bleed into each other or oppose each other can happen in a way that’s musical. You can hear that here. That doesn’t happen when you randomly click pieces together.

“The other writing experiment I challenged them with was, ‘Imagine there was no such band as Metallica. Imagine you guys are in the band that you are in, this band, and you’re going to play in a ‘Battle Of The Bands.’ You want to blow people away. What does that sound like? Without the baggage of thinking it needs to be any certain thing, what is the thing that you feel like will tear the heads off of the audience?” It really worked out good. I love that whole Death Magnetic album.”